Saturday, May 28, 2016

Cat in Breakfast at Tiffany's

(This blog post is part of the "Animals in Film" Blogathon hosted by In the Good Old Days of Hollywood)

My sister has never liked Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961).  For her it comes down to the treatment of Cat (played by Orangey) by the film's protagonist Holly Golightly (played by Audrey Hepburn). Cat is easily my sister's favourite character in the movie. He is one of my favourites as well, although I have always had a weakness for Audrey Hepburn, so I tend to overlook Holly's actions with regards to Cat.

Cat plays a central role in Breakfast at Tiffany's. For those who have never seen the film, he is more or less a stray who has adopted Holly as his own. Unfortunately Holly really can't (or won't) develop any sort of emotional attachment to anything or anyone. Indeed, she won't even give Cat an actual name. He simply remains "Cat". That having been said, her friendship with Cat is as close to a real relationship as she has ever gotten. She cares for him and feeds him, and he remains her companion throughout the movie. It is ultimately her relationship with Cat that makes Holly realise she essentially has a fear of commitment, even to the cat for whom she had cared for some time.

Cat was played by Orangey, possibly the most successful feline star of all time. By the time he starred in Breakfast at Tiffany's he was already a star with a good deal of experience. He had made his film debut in the title role of the film Rhubarb in 1951. This made him the first cat ever to play a title role in a film. What is more, he won a PATSY for his performance as Rhubarb (the PATSY is the equivalent of an Oscar for animal actors). Orangey (sometimes billed as Rhubarb) would have a very busy career over the next few years. He was Connie Brooks's landlady's cat Minerva on the sitcom Our Miss Brooks (even though Orangey was male). He played Butch, the cat in The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957). He also appeared in the films This Island Earth (1955) and Visit to a Small Planet (1960).

Orangey was the first real success for famed animal handler Frank Inn. Frank Inn had served as an assistant to Rudd Weatherwax, who trained Pal, the star of the early "Lassie" fiilms (starting with Lassie Come Home in 1943). He would later go onto train Higgins, the dog who starred on Petticoat Junction and the film Benji (1974), as well as many other animals for TV shows and films.

While Orangey was trained by one of the best known animal trainers in film and television history and Orangey himself would see a good deal of success, he was not always the most pleasant actor to work with. Orangey would behave himself while a scene was being shot, but once it was over it was not unusual for him to bite or scratch his co-stars.  A studio executive actually called Orangey "the world's meanest cat".  And while he would stay on the set while his scenes were being filmed, even if it was for hours,  he was known to flee the set once his scenes were over. Shooting would then have to be suspended until he was found. Frank Inn once posted guard dogs at the exits of the studio to stop Orangey from attempting one of his usual escapes!

Here it must be pointed out that Orangey had a number of "stunt doubles" in most of his films. This was no less true of Breakfast at Tiffany's. While some sources claim that were nine cats used in the filming of Breakfast at Tiffany's, it seems more likely there were only two. In addition to Orangey, who was a mackerel tabby, there is also a classic or marbled tabby. Regardless of how many other cats played Cat, it was Orangey who got all the credit. He won another PATSY for his performance in Breakfast at Tiffany's. He then became the only cat to ever win two PATSYs.

Orangey was not a particularly young cat when he starred in Breakfast at Tiffany's. Regardless, he continued to work steadily, playing Rusty the Cat on The Beverly Hillbillies and appearing in the film Gigot (1962). His last film credit was Village of the Giants in 1965. It is not known precisely when Orangey died, but it was probably not long after that given the lifespans of cats. He would be given a final resting place worthy of the movie star he was.  Reportedly his ashes were buried with Frank Inn in Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Los Angeles. To this day Orangey is probably best remembered as Cat in Breakfast at Tiffany's, despite having played many other roles. And I have to suspect that there are many people like my sister for whom Cat is their favourite character in the whole movie.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Julius La Rosa Passes On

Julius La Rosa, the singer who came to fame on Arthur Godfrey and His Friends and had hit songs throughout the Fifties, died on May 12 2016 at the age of 86. 

Julius La Rosa was born on January 2 1930 in Brooklyn, New York. At age 17 Mr. LaRosa joined the Untied States Navy where he served as a radioman. He was still in the Navy when his Navy buddies persuaded Arthur Godfrey to give him an audition. Julius La Rosa auditioned for Arthur Godfrey in Pensacola, Florida, where he was stationed. Arthur Godfrey then featured Mr. La Rosa on his TV show and told him he would have a job when he got out of the Navy.

Julius La Rosa was eventually discharged from the Navy and joined Arthur Godfrey's show in November 1951. He appeared on Arthur Godfrey Time, which aired in the morning, and the Wednesday night show  Arthur Godfrey and His Friends. Julius La Rosa soon became one of the most popular performers on Arthur Godfrey's shows. This popularity would soon lead to a record career. Mr. La Rosa was the first performer signed to Cadence Records, a record label formed by Arthur Godfrey's bandleader Archie Bleyer. In 1953 Julius La Rosa had a string of hits, including "This is Heaven" (which peaked at no. 21 on the Billboard chart), "Anywhere I Wander" (which peaked at no. 4), "My Lady Loves to Dance" (which peaked at no. 21), and "Eh, Cumpari!" (which peaked at no. 2).

Eventually Julius La Rosa's popularity was such that he was receiving more fan mail than Arthur Godfrey himself. At the same time, Arthur Godfrey was very controlling with regards to his performers, something which Mr. La Rosa resisted. Arthur Godfrey had not approved of Julius La Rosa signing with Cadence Records and was unhappy when Mr. La Rosa hired Tommy Rockwell as his agent and manager. In the end Arthur Godfrey fired Julius La Rosa on air on Arthur Godfrey Time on October 19 1953.

Arthur Godrey stated in the press that he fired Julius La Rosa for lacking "humility". That having been said, the American public were convinced that it was Godfrey who lacked humility. If the outrage on the part of radio listeners and television viewers was not enough, for a time Arthur Godfrey became the butt of jokes for stand-up comedians, who sought ways to work the phrase "no humility" into their acts. 

If anything else Arthur Godfrey's public firing of Julius La Rosa seemed to help his career in the short term. He soon started appearing on various variety shows and continued to do so throughout the Fifties. Almost immediately after Arthur Godfrey had fired him, Ed Sullivan arranged to have Julius La Rosa appear on Toast of the Town (soon to be renamed The Ed Sullivan Show). Mr. La Rosa would appear several more times on The Ed Sullivan Show. He also appeared on The Martha Raye Show, What's My Line, The Nat King Cole Show, The Polly Bergen Show, The Dinah Shore Chevy Show, and Perry Como's Kraft Music Hall. From 1955 to 1957 he had his own show, The Julius La Rosa Show, which served as a summer replacement for Perry Como's Kraft Music Hall. He also appeared in an episode of Matinee Theatre and the movie Let's Rock (1958). 

Julius La Rosa also continued to have hit songs for the remainder of the Fifties, including such hits as "Three Coins in the Fountain", "Domani (Tomorrow)", "Lipstick and Candy and Rubbersole Shoes", and "Torero". His first album, Julius La Rosa, was released in 1956. He released three more albums before the end of the decade. Unfortunately his recording career would decline as rock 'n' roll began to dominate both the radio and recording charts.

In the Sixties Julius La Rosa guest starred on Shirley Temple's Storybook, The United States Steel Hour, and Jackie Gleason: American Scene Magazine. He released two more albums and had two hits on the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart. 

In 1980 Julius La Rosa appeared in a role on the soap opera Another World, for which he was nominated for the Daytime Emmy for Best Supporting Actor. He appeared as himself in an episode of Laverne & Shirley. Mr. La Rosa eventually became a long time disc jockey at  WNEW-AM in New York. He continued to perform and sing, and appeared regularly on Jerry Lewis's  Muscular Dystrophy Association telethons in the New York area.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Godspeed Darwyn Cooke

Darwyn Cooke, the Eisner award winning comic book writer and artist who also did substantial work in animation, died on May14 at the age of 53. The cause was lung cancer.

Darwyn Cooke was born on November 16 1962 in Toronto, Ontario. He grew up in Nova Scotia. As a boy Mr. Cooke read comic books, although he would not become a passionate fan of the medium until he was in his teens. His first professional work was a five page crime story entitled "The Private Eye", published by DC Comics in New Talent Showcase #19 (October 1985). Unfortunately Darwyn Cooke did not think he could make a living in the comic book industry. He attended George Brown College in Toronto for a year, then went to work as an art director for various magazines. Eventually he established his own studio.

It was in 1996 that he learned that Warner Bros. was looking for storyboard artists for both The New Batman Adventures and Superman: The Animated Series. He made a pitch to Warner Bros. that included work that would become Batman: Ego, which would be published in 2000. Darwyn Cooke would then spend the next several years working on various Warner Bros. animated properties. He was a storyboard artist on The New Batman Adventures, Superman: The Animated Series, Batman Beyond, and Men in Black: The Series. He directed episodes of Men in Black: The Series and designed the titles for both the the TV series Batman Beyond and Batman Beyond: The Movie.

Darwyn Cooke returned to comic books in 2000 with the publication of the graphic novel Batman: Ego. He worked on the first four issues of the new Catwoman title, launched with a cover date of November 2001. He contributed to 9–11: The World's Finest Comic Book Writers & Artists Tell Stories to Remember, Volume Two. In 2002 DC Comics published his graphic novel Catwoman: Selina's Big Score. In 2001 they published the limited series DC: The New Frontier. The limited series was a tribute to the Silver Age set in the Fifties, with Golden Age superheroes Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman encountered the new Silver Age heroes The Flash, Green Lantern, and The Martian Manhunter. DC: The New Frontier won the Eisner Awards for e Eisner Award for Best Limited Series, Best Colouring, and Best Publication Design. It also won the Harvey Awards for  Best Artist, Best Colourist, and Best Continuing or Limited Series. For DC: The New Frontier Darwyn Cooke won the Shuster Award for Outstanding Canadian Comic Book Cartoonist (Writer/Artist).

Darwyn Cooke wrote the one-shot Batman/The Spirit (November 2006), in which Batman meets Will Eisner's classic character The Spirit. In 2009 Mr. Cooke began adapting the Parker novels written by Richard Stark as graphic novels. These included Richard Stark's Parker: The Hunter (July 2009), Richard Stark's Parker: The Man With the Getaway Face – A Prelude to The Outfit (July 2010), Richard Stark's Parker: The Outfit (October 2010), Richard Stark's Parker: The Score (May 2012), and Richard Stark's Parker: Slayground (December 2013). Over the years Darwyn Cooke contributed works about such DC Comics characters as Green Lantern, The Justice League, and Jonah Hex, as well as such Marvel characters as X-Force, Spider-Man, and Wolverine. He provided covers for everything from Weird Western Tales to Painkiller Jane.

Darwyn Cooke did further work in animation in the late Naughts. He served as a storyboard artist, character designer, and creative consultant on Justice League: The New Frontier (2008), which was based on his graphic novel.  He provided art for Batman Black and White episode "Here Be Monsters".

As both a writer and an artist Darwyn Cooke was very talented. What is more he had a wonderfully retro style that hearkened back to both the Golden Age and the Silver Age. What is more, he returned to comic books just when they needed him most. The Nineties saw a trend towards grittiness and darkness in comic books, with superheroes often being portrayed as being extremely flawed. Darwyn Cooke returned the characters to their original heroic proportions, looking to how they had originally been portrayed in comic books. Darwyn Cooke's eye for earlier times also proved useful in adapting Richard Stark's Parker novels. The artwork in the Parker graphic novels look as if they could have easily come from a classic film noir from the Forties or Fifties. Ultimately one could say that Darwyn Cooke simply made comic books fun again. Because of that comic book fans owe him an enormous debt.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Happy Anniversary to The Rap Sheet!

It was back in 2003 that Perseus Development Corporation conducted a survey on blogs. Their findings were very interesting. Fully 66% of all blogs had been abandoned (at least temporarily), not having been updated in two months. Of those abandoned blogs 25% boasted only one post, made the day the blog was created. Given these statistics I think it is safe to say that the majority of blogs created in the Naughts probably lasted only briefly. A blog that has lasted an entire decade is then very remarkable. The Rap Sheet has reached exactly that milestone, having turned ten years old yesterday. It was on May 22 2006 that it was launched.

For those of you unfamiliar with The Rap Sheet, it is a blog dedicated to crime fiction (the blog dedicated to crime fiction, in my opinion). What is more, The Rap Sheet doesn't simply cover the printed word, but also television shows, films, and radio shows as well. Over the years The Rap Sheet has featured articles on The NBC Mystery Movie, the classic radio show Suspense, and the films based on Dashiell Hammett's classic The Maltese Falcon. The Rap Sheet benefits from having multiple contributors, many of who are "top professionals" (to borrow a phrase from the American introduction to The Avengers). They don't simply write about crime fiction, they have actually written crime fiction. Quite simply, among The Rap Sheet's contributors are actual crime novelists.

In 2009 The Rap Sheet won a Spinetingler Award from Spinetingler Magazine for Special Services to the Industry. The Rap Sheet was twice nominated for the Anthony Award for Best Website/Blog.

For years now The Rap Sheet has been an invaluable resource for fans of crime fiction. It has always been both very informative and enjoyable to read. Here is to another ten years!